In response to my blog post, Children Don’t Cause Fires, Adults Do, Chief Steve Marler, San Juan Island (WA) Fire Department wrote:
Hello. You pose an interesting premise. The reason I’ve invested nearly 40 years in public fire safety education to children is based upon the hope that they will grow into fire safe adults. Your statistics call that effort into question. So, how do you balance the old adages of : “teach them while they’re young” and “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” with the reality of the stats?
Where along their growth path to adults do the children forget the fire safety lessons we have tried to teach them? Were we ineffective to begin with? Or, did they forget or ignore the lessons as they grew into adulthood? If so, what was the influence that caused that shift?
Regarding fire sprinklers, I will never understand why they are not more universally accepted. Placing the fire suppression capability where the potential hazard is shouldn’t be a question. What represents a better investment in a community’s safety? A $500,000+ fire engine and all of the associated costs of staffing it with trained personnel – somewhere within five miles of the potential fire – or an on site automatic system that will most likely extinguish – or at least contain – the fire while it is still in it’s incipient stages?
I believe that the insurance industry is missing the boat on fire sprinklers. While not scientific evidence, my professional observations over the years has been that property damage is dramatically reduced when sprinklers are present.
Steve, thank you for your insightful remarks! You bring up many good points that fire service professionals really need to pursue with additional research (Any Executive Fire Officer Program students out there looking for a topic for you next ARP?)
Another reader, Jim Guy, Founder- Board Chairman at J-FIRE of Western New York wrote:
We focus on the young likely because its easy. But, what we provide in education is often lost in an overriding effort to entertain them. Further, without reinforcement of the fire safe/prevention message in their home environment, any value is soon lost to the parent’s daily example/attitudes towards fire safety. It is no wonder that loss to fire is perpetuated from generation to generation.
The very young and the elderly have been identified as the population suffering the most from fire. I believe adults provide the environment for the young and influence their behavior and are therefore responsible for propagating poor fire safe living. The elderly have lived a lifetime ignoring or at least tempting loss to fire and are now being caught.
I agree and for years have advocated for fire safe living skills to be taught in earnest at the high school, college and new parent training programs as the way to finally break the cycle of perpetual fire losses.
I think one “piece” of the lack of retention for fire safe behaviors for children as they grow into adults is that too many departments and their communities have a “one and done” mentality. Children get a “small piece” the safety message, e.g., “stop drop and roll”, don’t play with matches, and E.D.I.T.H. (Exit Drills in the Home), somewhere during grades K-4, one time, and then this foundation is never built upon during their remaining school years.
We are missing many opportunities to inform and educate young people about how to avoid becoming a victim of fire as they grown into adulthood and assume greater life responsibilities.
These are just a couple of thoughts that come to mind where we could have a positive influence “along the way”:
- Deliver a campus fire safety program that’s a part of the freshman orientation program at all colleges and universities with a refresher program during each of their remaining years.
- Develop local codes and ordinances that require all renters to complete a basic fire safety course before signing a rental agreement.
- Develop local codes and ordinances that require all prospective homeowners to complete a basic fire safety course before signing their closing documents on a property.
With the “explosion” of on-line tools for computers and tablets and smartphones there are limitless opportunities for Fire and EMS departments and their communities to make such ideas a reality. Check out a sampling of such programs below in the Resources Section.
If we’re going to get serious about using education as a tool to reduce the numbers of fire-related deaths and injuries in the USA, we have to get beyond fire safety education being a “child’s topic”. We need to rethink both our strategies and methodologies: we have to focus on improved outcomes (measure of effectiveness) rather than solely on the number of programs that we deliver each year (measure of efficiency).
Remember the first rule of getting yourself out of a hole? Quit digging.
Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.